Start with Prologue



Nikki was on the phone first thing, knowing my keen cyclist of a husband would be out on his Saturday morning ride.

“Why are you up so early?” I inquired. With no kids to worry about this weekend, I was out on the deck, reading the newspaper, my bare legs warmed by the spring sun.

The lawnmowing man had been yesterday so the smell of clipped grass was still fresh.

Nikki, my best friend since first grade, was lucky enough to enjoy this sort of leisurely start every day. As a producer on Perth’s top drive-time radio show, she didn’t have to roll into work until well after lunchtime. Let’s just say what the day looked like before ten o’clock was not one of her specialty subjects.

Nicola Cordelia Millicent Palmer – to use her full title, which she banned anyone from doing since she despised inheriting her grandmothers’ names – was one of the things I missed most living on the other side of Australia. Phone calls and email exchanges kept us in touch but it certainly didn’t replace spending time together, sharing a tub of chocolate ice-cream and watching schmaltzy rom-com movies.

We first met in the playground on our third day of school. She was hanging upside down, her Holly Hobbie knickers flashing to the world, with her patchwork skirt caught on the climbing frame. I rescued her and from then on we were inseparable.

And let me tell you there had been many occasions since when Nikki had been caught out flashing her knickers.

Nikki didn’t answer my question about her early rising and instead got right to the heart of the matter. “Did you see the story about the Shrimp getting done for drinkdriving?

He was looking rough.” She knew the chances of a celebrity scandal passing me by were next to none. Especially one involving this particular rocker.

The breeze rustled the newspaper so I set my coffee mug down on it, covering up the now-infamous mugshot.

“Have you heard from him lately?” Nikki asked tentatively, well aware I didn’t talk about Andy anymore.

She had been his biggest fan right from the start, when she invited herself along to check out my new boyfriend at his band practice session. She donned her best clubbing gear – a gold sequinned crop top and black lycra shorts – for the auspicious occasion. Towering over Andy in her chunky-heeled black boots, she nicknamed him the Shrimp. She loved the fact that he was my complete opposite – happy-go-lucky to my harried; mellow to my meticulous; untroubled to my uptight.

“No, not since, you know …” I dragged myself back to the present and answered Nikki’s question.

“Well,” Nikki cut in. “According to Sebastian Sloane, all is not well at Casa Dangerfield. Siena’s dad is putting pressure on the band to get the album done. And Andy’s not happy with the direction it’s taking. There’s talk of him wanting to ditch it and start again.”

That wouldn’t go down well with Chandler Ellement. Andy’s father-in-law was the founder of record company Atticus, which unleashed Danger Game on the world in the mid-nineties. It had been six long years since their last album, Tomfoolery, and with every extra day in the recording studio costing big bucks, going back to the drawing board was unlikely to be an option for the notoriously headstrong music boss.

And Siena would be leading the charge to get her husband to play by the company line.

“I don’t know why he ever married that woman,” Nikki harrumphed.

I also had no idea why Andy married Siena Ellement. Apart from the fact that he got her pregnant. And her adoring father controlled Danger Game’s future – one wrong move, like leaving his daughter up the duff without a ring, and all their aspirations would be dust. There were rumours that Chandler took a double-barrelled shotgun to the wedding ceremony, in case the groom got cold feet.

I’d never met Siena but her image was imprinted on my brain. She looked like Dita von Teese but instead of sultry burlesque star, think more snarling wolf. The darkhaired beauty with the porcelain skin was the creative director of Atticus; mother of three gorgeous daughters; owner of a sprawling Santa Barbara estate, a Fifth Avenue penthouse, a Kensington apartment a stone’s throw from the palace, and a holiday home on a private South Pacific island. And she got to share her bed with a rock legend. I’m sure I would have hated her on sight even if she had nothing to do with Andy.

“So have you mentioned him to Curtis yet, seeing he’s in the news and all?” Nikki asked. “You’ve only been married for – what – a zillion years and he’s still blissfully unaware your first boyfriend is famous.”

“No,” I said, reaching down to stroke next-door’s tabby cat. “And I thought we agreed, I’m not telling Curtis. Ever. End of story.”

I’d made the mistake of dating someone before who knew all about Andy. How I felt about Andy, how I still felt about Andy all through our relationship. And that ended disastrously.

So from then on, I adopted a new approach: don’t mention the rock star.

* * *

“Sorry, sorry,” I exclaimed flinging my handbag on to my desk, narrowly missing the coffee mug I’d forgotten to empty out last week.

So far Monday morning had been a nightmare. My fourteen-year-old son, Ryan, claimed he was too sick to go to school. He’d been having lots of headaches lately, which magically disappeared as soon as I’d informed the school of his absence.

“Too busy at work today, sport. You can’t take the day off cos I can’t take the day off.” I gathered up a pile of manky clothes, stepping on a CD case in the process.

“The floor isn’t a storage facility, you know.” I picked up the CD and instantly recognised the band on the cover. Since when had my son become a Danger Game fan?

Ryan pulled a pained, but brave, expression. “I can stay at home myself, I’m old enough. I’ll rest in bed, catch up on sleep.”

Yeah, right. I grew up with Ferris Bueller, you know.

“If your headache is that bad you can’t go to school, then we’ll need to see a doctor.” I pushed his fringe out of his eyes to rest my palm on his forehead. He didn’t appear to have a temperature.

Grumbling to himself, Ryan – who would probably elect not to seek medical help even if both legs fell off – rolled out of bed and made for the bathroom. He returned, buttoning his light blue shirt. Thankfully that stubborn tomato sauce stain was tucked away below the waistband of his grey trousers.

“I’m sure you’ll feel better once you’re at school,” I said, fastening his burgundy and white striped tie.

“I’m sure I won’t – especially with this thing cutting off my circulation.” He pulled at the tie, as if gasping for breath.

“You’ll survive. Now go get something to eat quick – and try to do something with that hair.” Ryan roughly ran his fingers through his dark matted locks before smoothing the long fringe back over his eyes. It still looked a frightful mess.

It was then that his younger sister, Ciara, who had been painstakingly straightening her honey blonde curls for the past half hour, reminded me that she needed something for international food day. And by remind, I meant told me for the first time.

It was too late to do anything apart from divert to the sparsely stocked continental deli on our school run. Muttering under my breath about teachers making life difficult for busy parents, I grabbed a few packets of Walkers crisps and HobNobs biscuits, tossing a bag of aniseed balls in for good measure. Her father was English so it was either that or a can of mushy peas and out-of-date rice pudding.

Waiting in the queue for a kiss-and-drive spot at Chesterfield Ladies’ College, I cringed as the other students piled out of their 4WDs and BMWs, carrying containers bursting with nutritious curries, home-made sushi and patisserie-quality baked goods.

One girl wandered past with a tray of mini beef burgers with American flag toothpicks flying proudly. And Matilda Grinsted – who always boasted about her ancestors being on the First Fleet (without specifying if it was officer quarters or convict class) – was bearing a giant casserole dish of shepherd’s pie. Organic lamb, no doubt.

“Ciara,” I hissed, pulling into a free parking spot at last. “If anyone asks, I’m away for the week and your father arranged the food. Got it?”

Anyway, the upshot of this morning’s domestic dramas meant I missed my usual bus and was late for work. Hopefully my boss wouldn’t notice.

“Ah, Kellie. You’re finally here.” That would be my boss noticing.

Starfix editor-in-chief Zara Conrad – a willowy former model who was rocking a Camilla Franks kaleidoscope kaftan today – was the type of woman who broke through the glass ceiling and then pieced it back together with superglue so no one else could follow her.

“I’m afraid Adele has rung in sick – again,” Zara tutted, shaking her glossy black bob. “And Bethany is running late because of some child-care emergency.” Nothing short of a real emergency involving the police, ambulance, fire services – and possibly the SAS – would excuse this. When it came to her employees having to deal with family stuff, Zara showed zero tolerance.

“So that means I’ve got no one to attend the Kris Carson presser.” She tapped her purple glitter-tipped fingernails on my desk, ignoring Lenny, who piped up from the corner that he would be happy to cover it.

Kris Carson, Kris Carson. My mind went into overdrive trying to place the name.

Ah, yes, that sixteen-year-old singer from the outback who was causing a stir with his YouTube videos.

“So I need you over at the convention centre. Like now. Get going. I’ll forward the details to your phone.”

As my taxi sped to Darling Harbour, I checked for her message. “YouTube sensation Kris Carson … blah blah blah … in town to promote his first EP … blah blah blah … ten-thirty press conference with Atticus Records creative director Siena Ellement.” Oh crap!

* * *

Kris Carson and Siena Ellement were fashionably late so I had plenty of time to stake out a spot in the third row. First row was too try-hard. Back row was too rebellious. Third row was just right.

I was skim-reading the media kit handed to me at the door, when a text from Zara pinged on to my phone screen: “Make sure you ask Siena about husband’s arrest. Don’t come back without.” Zara was the principal of the my-way-or-the-highway school.

I glanced around to see which other media outlets had shown up. Lots of skinny girls were tottering in on their impossibly high heels, no doubt from the gossip mags or blogs. There were no TV reporters in sight, nor any of those grungy, bearded blokes who typically populated newspaper music sections. Damn it, I needed someone here who would ask the hard questions.

After briefing our photographer, Zoe, to get a good shot of Siena too, I had just retaken my seat when a cacophony of squeals started up outside. That would be the Justin Bieber of Birdsville arriving. Even though it was a school day, a fervent crowd of his teen fans – KrisCrushers as they were known – had camped out near the entrance, glittery posters in hand.

They, no doubt, like me had been earnestly following his Twitter feed. “Morning to my gawjess fans.” “Got dressed in dark, might explain odd socks.” “Chowing down a Subway meatball sub.” “Talking music with aj freakin dangerfield’s missus. defiantly love my life :-)”

I flipped open my notebook as the wunderkid strutted out but my attention was drawn to the woman accompanying him. She was immaculately dressed in a burgundy satin dress with cinched-in waist. How tiny was that waist? She’d make Kate Middleton look bloated.

All those photos of Siena looking gorgeous at red-carpet events, I had always hoped they were the result of advanced airbrushing techniques. I now realised they didn’t do her justice at all – she was even more stunning in the flesh. However, it felt as if the room temperature plummeted several degrees as the renowned ice queen walked in.

Meanwhile Kris didn’t look like a kid who came from a tiny settlement on the edge of a desert. No Akubra hat or flannelette shirt for him. Instead he was wearing black leggings, long black boots, and a ripped tank top under a sleeveless distressed denim jacket. I couldn’t see the odd socks from here. A nice-looking kid, if you got past the multiple piercings and razor-sharp black mullet. It was hard to believe Kris was only two years older than my Ryan.

He sauntered over to his seat like he owned the place. A good-looking man with shaggy sandy hair hovered nearby – his father maybe? They shared the same gappy smile.

With a publicist conducting proceedings, the blogger squad fired away with their questions: “Kris, can you tell us about being discovered on YouTube?” “Was it fun shooting your first video?” “Do you have a girlfriend?”

With a vision of an enraged Zara in mind, my hand shot up, almost involuntarily. “Kellie Carmichael, of Starfix. My question is for Ms Ellement, can you tell us why your husband, AJ Dangerfield, was drink-driving last week?”

The publicist paled and sucked in her breath. Siena fixed me with a steely glare: “This media conference is about Kris and his amazing talent. I am not commenting on other matters at this time.”

“So what time will you be commenting on this other matter?”

If looks could have killed, those would have been the last words I spoke. After shooting me a death stare, Siena ignored my question, motioning to the publicist to get another, more satisfactory one. Someone obliged with a query about whether Kris was likely to guest star on Home and Away.

At the end of the session, as everyone gossiped about how much they loved Kris’ denim jacket, I motored out of the room and headed straight past the cluster of fans to the carpark. Just as I suspected, there was a limo waiting. I smiled at the young driver who was having a sneaky smoke, and then glanced around nonchalantly. I planned to corner Siena when she left. I’d lie down on the road in front of her car if I had to.

With Kris busy signing autographs and posing for photos with fans, I got stuck into reviewing my story notes. I didn’t notice Siena approaching until she barked at the driver. “Put that cigarette out NOW. I don’t want your disgusting fumes polluting my airspace.”

“Yes, Ms Ellement. Right away,” he stammered, grounding the butt under his pointy-toe shoe.

Then I felt her laser-beam eyes alight on me. “Kellie, isn’t it?”

I nodded, surprised she remembered.

“It’s my daughter’s middle name.” Her nostrils flared. “Not really a name I like but my husband chose it.” Siena looked me up and down, coolly appraising my well-worn black trousers and purple silk shirt.

I tucked my arms tightly by my side, praying no sweat signs were visible, and willed myself to stop staring at her wedding ring, a gaudy cluster of pink diamonds that reached to her knuckle. “So are you ready to comment on Andy’s – I mean AJ’s – drink-driving charge?”

Siena’s eyes flashed with annoyance. They were the colour of coal and the thick black eyeliner made them look even more sinister. If anyone was looking to cast a new Maleficent, the evil sorceress of Sleeping Beauty, look no further. I wondered what sort of spell she had cast on Andy to make him choose her.

I squared up my shoulders, unwilling to let on how intimidated I felt. “I was his first,” I repeated silently to myself like a mantra. Where on earth had that come from?

Siena scrutinised my face. I wished I’d taken the time, like Ciara, to straighten my unruly hair this morning but thank god I’d had my eyebrows shaped on Friday afternoon – remember that vital ‘medical’ appointment I’d talked about? My beautician was so good she had a doctorate in waxing.

“You look familiar. Have we met before?”

I shook my head vigorously and tapped my pen on my notepad, to remind Siena that I was chasing a comment about her errant husband.

“Well, if you say so. I normally have an excellent recall for faces. You can contact my representative for a statement.” And with that she pivoted on her Christian Louboutin heels, heading back towards Kris.

She had only gone a few paces when my phone rang. Siena’s head whipped around, recognising my ringtone as Going the Distance, one of Danger Game’s lesser-known songs. In my haste to silence it, I cut off whoever was on the other end. Siena fixed me with her beady eyes and made to approach me again – her female intuition bells no doubt ringing sharply – when screams from the fans distracted her. A couple of the more well-cushioned girls had enveloped Kris in a bear hug and looked like they were going to squeeze the life out of him. I seized the opportunity to hightail it out of there.

* * *

Back at the office, I wrote up the piece about Kris – he had some fascinating stuff to say about how fame wouldn’t change him (said while twisting a bling bling ring on his finger) and how he loved playing the Twisted Metal video game. From my background research, I discovered his mother had remarried a cattle station owner, while his dad Marty (that was him at the press conference) was a former professional triathlete who ran a surfing school in Byron Bay. I tossed in a bit of colour about Kris’ plans to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge at twilight and a few quotes about how he thought the local chicks were totally “gawjess”, and the story was ready to post, together with a great photo of him being mobbed by fans.

Working for the online media was all about speed. Journalism used to be about “if in doubt, leave it out” – now it was more “don’t get it right, get it written”. I checked our competitor websites to see if their stories were up yet – those flaky girls were probably still back at the convention centre talking about Kris’ jacket.

“Where’s the story on Dangerfield?” Zara pounced.

Thanks for filing that Kris Carson story so quickly. Oh, don’t mention it Zara.

“I’m waiting to hear back from Siena’s rep.”

The emailed response when it came, cced to Ms Ellement, was short and not-so sweet for someone needing to write a four-hundred-word article from it. “My husband regrets his actions and intends to plead no contest.”

Later I saw Siena had given a more considered, heartfelt interview to American gossip king Sebastian Sloane, including: “I believe AJ was suffering from the combined stress of working on the album and being away from his loved ones.”

Hah, being away from you, Siena, would be reason enough to have a celebratory drink!

“He certainly feels very sorry for his actions but didn’t realise he was over the limit. AJ would never knowingly do anything illegal.”

You obviously don’t know him as well as I do then.

“I am heading home soon and can’t wait for us to be reunited. AJ is the most wonderful, loving husband and we can’t imagine our lives without each other.”

Pass me the sick bag.

Continue to Chapter 2